Assistance animals such as emotional support and therapy animals can do extraordinary wonders for mental health, including reducing stress, managing anxiety, uplifting depression, decreasing loneliness and improving general well-being. Many research studies have found that we are less likely to focus on negativity and think about ourselves in a negative way when we have an animal for support. Animals also help those experiencing depression and anxiety to become more involved in their
environment in non-threatening ways. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute cites a study that explored the role of pets in managing mental health. The research showed assistance animals give their owner the ability to gain a sense of control just from taking care of the animal. They also gained a feeling of security and order from being around an animal. Having an animal establishes a routine and helps you move forward with daily tasks. Animals also provide a distraction from troublesome symptoms.
There are many proven benefits for those who need emotional support and therapy animals, but ultimately, not everyone should be prescribed an assistance animal. Pets provide similar benefits to their owners, so what’s the difference? Mental health and medical professional prescribers work with their patients to determine if they need an emotional support or therapy animal. As defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), a therapy animal meets a specific criteria that is integral to the treatment process. Therapy animals are used in individual or group settings. An emotional support animal is an animal of any species and is supported by a qualified physician, psychiatrist or other mental health professional on the basis of a disability-related need, according to the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act.
Assistance Animals Consulting founder Dr. Rhesa Houston noticed a lack of connection between the veterinary and mental health and health care fields when her own father was prescribed an assistance animal. Dr. Houston wholeheartedly supported this human-animal partnership since her father saw improvements from his assistance animal. But as a veterinarian, Dr. Houston started thinking about the gap between the fields. As the medical professionals for animals, veterinarians understand animal behavior, temperament and the appropriate daily and medical care these animals need. Dr. Houston wasn’t sure why veterinarians haven’t been involved in the process to prescribe animals for therapeutic purposes.
As a veterinarian who specializes in animal-assisted therapy, Dr. Houston ensures assistance animals receive the support they need. Dr. Houston founded Assistance Animals Consulting to bridge the gap. “I am in a position to collaborate with other medical professionals who prescribe assistance animals,” Dr. Houston explained. Veterinarians should be involved at the forefront of the conversation and throughout the human-animal partnership to advance animal health and well-being, public safety and the mutual benefit of the human-animal bond relationship.
How Assistance Animals Consulting can help
There are four important benefits of collaborating with veterinarians when working with animals in health care. Our veterinarians at Assistance Animals Consulting can work with prescribing professionals to help accomplish what we all want: an improved patient outcome. Our goal is to be part of your team’s approach to mental health care and support patients’ needs.
1. As licensed veterinarians, we are the animal advocates. We partner with you to evaluate and help preserve the health and welfare of the assistance animal.
Ensuring animal health and welfare is vital. Evaluating an animal's physical and mental state helps determine if the animal has any underlying illnesses or diseases that could affect their well-being. Our goal is to identify and treat any abnormal health conditions. Learn more about our evaluations and consultations here.
2. We perform animal welfare evaluations while providing consultations on the effectiveness of the human-animal partnership.
Introducing an animal into a home can sometimes be overwhelming. It’s important patients understand animal care and the animal’s basic needs such as food, water, shelter, consistent veterinary care and behavior training. For some people, additional education may be needed for allergy sensitivities or other human health conditions that could be compromised by introducing an animal into the home. Our goal is to advocate for and protect the animal’s welfare, which means providing for its physical and mental needs. As an advocate for the working animal, we feel it’s critical to educate potential patients on their working animal’s basic needs to create a successful relationship for both human and animal.
3. We help maintain health and safety for patients and the general public by screening and providing care plans to protect against zoonotic disease transmission.
If steps aren’t taken to make sure patients have routine consultations with a veterinarian, it puts the health and safety of the individual and the public at risk. Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted from animal to human and can be life threatening at times. It’s important to take preventive measures and receive frequent screenings from veterinarians specialized in animal-assisted therapy to reduce the risk of therapy animals contracting a zoonotic disease and passing it to a patient. We create ongoing care plans so the animals are frequently monitored. Preventing zoonotic diseases in animals used in animal-assisted intervention programs ensures human-animal teams stay happy and healthy well after a consultation.
4. We’re experts in animal-assisted therapy and will work with you to help patients through the use of assistance animal strategies and the human-animal bond.
The human-animal bond is a mutual relationship where an animal is paired with a human to improve the emotional, psychological or physical health and well-being of the human and animal. We collaborate with the mental health professional by providing documented best practices from research studies and animal-assisted intervention strategies that have proven to be meaningful, valuable and helpful in improving health outcomes.
Advocating for collaboration in all aspects of animal-assisted therapy will help support patients and prescribers as well as the general public. We are licensed veterinarians at the forefront of these conversations. Assistance Animals Consulting partners with health care professionals and organizations to serve as a veterinary resource for any human-animal intervention treatment plan. Contact us to get started today.